Vatican City, Jul 3, 2018 / 09:20 am
For two cardinals helping to organize Pope Francis' upcoming trip to Bari, the event is a chance to highlight not only the historic religious presence of Christianity in the Middle East, but also the social contribution the various rites and churches bring to the region.
“Christians are an essential element of balance” for the Middle East “not only for religious reasons, but also for political and social reasons,” Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said July 3.
Quoting Benedict XVI's 2012 apostolic exhortation on the Church in the Middle East, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, Koch said that “a Middle East without Christians, or with only a few Christians, would no longer be the Middle East, since Christians, together with other believers, are part of the distinctive identity of the region.”
However, he stressed that getting Christians to stay after having their lives uprooted and, in many cases, torn apart, will only happen “if peace is re-established.”
This peace largely depends on the political climate, he said, adding that “this is why, since the beginning of the crisis, the Catholic Church has tirelessly called for the restoration of peace, above all through the search for a political solution.”
Koch spoke to the press alongside Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, at a briefing on Pope Francis' July 7 trip to Bari for an ecumenical gathering aimed at promoting peace in the Middle East.
Located in the southern Italian region of Puglia, Bari is known as the “porta d’Oriente,” or the “Eastern Gate,” because of its connection to both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches through the relics of St. Nicholas.
The ecumenical gathering will include leaders of Eastern Catholic Churches and Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, as well as ecclesial communities.